Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Nov. 21, 22 or 23, 2016
This week among the many blessings for which we all give thanks, is the gratitude for not having made the boo-boo’s claimed by ex-Congressman Aaron Schock.
Mistakes aren’t uncommon in Washington. There’s FBI Director James Comey’s odd “Never mind” nine days after he implied renewed doubt in Hillary Clinton’s email case, and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) last week offering support for Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (ret.) being named National Security adviser to Donald Trump without the President-Elect having appointed him.
But Schock, the Republican who last March resigned as Illinois’ 18th Congressional District representative, would like people to think he should be excused from allegations of criminal activity because they were accounting errors.
Further, a second court action stemming from a letter Schock signed attacking a Peoria County farmer could be another blunder the 35 year old made.
A Springfield grand jury this month indicted Schock on 24 counts of fraud – all felonies. Last week, U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough granted a request from Schock’s attorneys to delay his arraignment from this week to Dec. 12 to accommodate his overseas travel plans (maybe made by mistake or assuming he’d escape consequences to the inquiry since a Washington grand jury ended with no indictment).
“These charges allege that Mr. Schock deliberately and repeatedly violated federal law, to his personal and financial advantage,” U.S. Attorney Jim Lewis said.
If the accusations were “administrative errors,” as one of Schock’s lawyers asserted, why did they never result in financial losses?
And concerning the other case – the year-old libel suit overshadowed by the grand jury investigation and characterized by similar delays – will he appeal for understanding because he made an error in judgment?
“Dick Burns has been banned by the Illinois State Fair from showing hogs because he has been caught seriously cheating to win contests with large prizes,” said the GOP’s two-page letter.
Libel is a false statement published about someone and harming that person or his or her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others. The statement must identify the person and be presented as fact and not clearly identified as an opinion. Statements can be negligent through not taking the time to verify assertions or made with the intent to harm someone’s reputation.
Although the letter was “an overt attempt to manipulate the election,” the suit charges, it seems to have gone beyond political or ideological differences, according to an Illinois legal scholar.
“Let's assume the accusation regarding banning, hogs and cheating is false and recognize that it appears to hit Burns in the wallet,” said Deckle McLean, a retired journalism educator who’s published dozens of articles on media law, including defamation. “In the context of the Peoria County Board race, Burns, as a candidate, looks like a public figure. Rules governing defamation lawsuits would call upon him to demonstrate the accusation was actually malicious – actual malice being a legal standard meaning a high degree of fault including reckless disregard for the truth. Burns' suit might have some traction if the accusation amounts to reckless disregard – and it looks like it might be that bad.”
Burns breeds and shows Angus cattle who “does not now, nor has he ever, shown hogs at the Illinois State Fair,” according to the lawsuit. Further, the complaint says, Burns – who for years has judged shows in Kansas, Wisconsin and other states – is not banned for anything and never cheated at the Illinois State Fair, much less for “large prizes,” which aren’t given out at the fair.
The suit says Schock and LaHood acted “either with malice knowing they [the statements] were false, or in reckless disregard of whether they were false or not.”
Burns, whose wife is Colleen Callahan (defeated by Schock in 2008), said the lawsuit isn’t political and declined to comment except to say, “It affected my profession.”
Court records show a Rule to Show Cause hearing is scheduled for a Peoria courtroom next week.
“Once a dispute gets into court, anything can happen,” McLean said about the libel suit, “– something the defendants as well as the plaintiff might keep in mind.”
Even mistakes can have consequences.
[PICTURED: The two-page letter in which Schock, LaHood and a GOP Committee are accused of libel.]